Introduction of consumer data privacy issues
In recent years, there has been a significant rise in online shopping. E-commerce giants now provide consumers with more choices and options, while brick-and-mortar stores are also entering the online market to stay competitive. The COVID-19 pandemic has further accelerated the shift to online shopping as people continue to purchase items they used to buy from offline stores. However, along with the growth in online shopping, cybercrime has also escalated, resulting in financial losses for unfortunate individuals.
Risks of online shopping
The risks associated with online shopping include:
Personal information gets leaked
Cybercriminals gain unauthorized access to e-commerce websites to steal users’ login credentials and credit card details. They can use this information to make fraudulent purchases or sell personal data to other criminals. You can even be charged for things that you didn’t buy.
Some websites lack proper encryption, making them vulnerable to attacks. Websites without an up-to-date SSL certificate and URLs starting with HTTP instead of HTTPS are not secure, putting shoppers at risk when sharing sensitive information.
When shopping online, you share sensitive information with retailers, including payment details, addresses, and contact information. In the event of a data breach on an e-commerce website, your personal information could be exposed.
Gets scammed by fake apps
Cybercriminals sometimes create fake versions of legitimate retailer apps to gather personal information, such as bank details and login credentials.
Credit information gets stolen while using public Wi-Fi
Using unsecured Wi-Fi networks in public places poses security risks. Hackers can intercept the connection and gain access to personal information, such as credit card details and contact information.
Scammers send fraudulent emails that appear to be from reputable retailers, often including attachments or links designed to trick recipients into clicking. Clicking these links can initiate malware infections.
13 ways to protect your data while shopping online
Despite internet scams and cybercrime, it doesn’t mean you should avoid online shopping altogether. It is possible to shop safely online if you are aware of the potential risks and take necessary precautions.
Here are some guidelines for ensuring safe and secure online shopping.
Check the URL carefully
Instead of clicking on links in emails or search results, you should type the URL directly into the address bar. Scammers often rely on phishing emails that trick you into clicking a link that leads to a cleverly designed copycat website. By typing the retailer’s URL yourself, you can ensure that you are visiting an authentic website and avoid falling victim to cybercriminals who may steal your personal information.
Use a temporary or virtual card
Consider using a temporary or virtual credit card for online purchases to protect against unauthorized transactions. Cybercriminals have become increasingly sophisticated, making it more challenging to safeguard your credit card information. Temporary credit cards issued by some companies allow you to make one-time purchases, preventing scammers from using your credit card details for additional fraudulent activities. Virtual credit cards generate a random account number for each purchase, adding protection against hackers attempting to reuse your card information.
Use a separate computer for online shopping
Dedicate a computer solely for online banking and shopping to minimize the risk of malware and infections. By using a separate computer for these activities and avoiding general internet browsing, downloading, and email checking, you create a “clean” environment that is less susceptible to viruses and other online threats. Keeping this dedicated computer separate from your regular browsing activities reduces the chances of inadvertently exposing yourself to potential risks when conducting financial transactions online.
Create a different email for shopping
Create a dedicated email address for online shopping to minimize spam and avoid opening potentially malicious emails. By setting up a separate email account specifically for your online shopping activities, you can limit the promotional and spam messages you receive. This reduces the risk of mistakenly clicking on or opening emails that might contain malware or phishing attempts disguised as sales promotions or other notifications.
You can try the Private Email feature on Locker, which can generate many aliases and keep your true email private. This way, shopping sites can’t have your real email.
Set up strong passwords
Manage and protect your online passwords by using strong, unique passwords and employing a password manager like Locker for more convenience and encryption. Strong, complex passwords are crucial for securing your online accounts. However, remembering numerous passwords can be challenging. Password managers can generate and store strong passwords for multiple accounts, encrypting them to ensure their security. Some password managers also offer password management features, giving you peace of mind knowing your passwords are protected.
Avoid using public Wi-Fi
Avoid logging into online accounts using public Wi-Fi networks as hackers can compromise them. Public Wi-Fi networks, such as those found in coffee shops, hotels, or restaurants, are generally less secure than private networks. Hackers can intercept data transmitted through these networks and gain access to your login credentials and personal information. If you need to access the internet while shopping, using your mobile phone network or a secured private connection rather than public Wi-Fi is safer.
Choose familiar and well-known brands
Stick to familiar and reputable brands when shopping online, and be cautious of misspelled website names that mimic trusted companies. Trustworthy and well-established brands typically have robust security measures to protect customers’ information. However, scammers often create fake websites with intentionally misspelled domain names and designs that imitate popular brands. Being vigilant and checking the website’s authenticity before making a purchase can help you avoid falling victim to counterfeit websites and ensure a safer online shopping experience.
Do your research before buying
Research new vendors carefully, check their contact information and returns policy, and read online reviews to gauge their reliability. Conducting thorough research is essential if you decide to purchase from an unfamiliar online vendor. Look for provided contact details such as email, phone numbers, or addresses and a clear returns policy. Additionally, reading reviews from other customers can provide valuable insights into the vendor’s reputation and reliability. Being diligent in your research helps minimize the risk of encountering fraudulent or unreliable vendors.
Be careful about sharing personal information
Be cautious about sharing personal information and only provide the necessary details to complete your purchases. When shopping online, only share the information required to complete the transaction, such as shipping addresses and payment details. Avoid sharing unnecessary personal information, especially through unsolicited requests or questionable websites. Legitimate online retailers typically only request essential information and handle it securely. Exercise caution and trust your instincts when sharing personal details during online transactions.
Use a Virtual Private Network
Opt for a Virtual Private Network (VPN) if you find yourself in a situation where you must shop online using public Wi-Fi. All of the data transferred between your device and the VPN server gets encrypted by installing a VPN. This encryption ensures that even if hackers have the Wi-Fi network password, they won’t be able to intercept your data. A VPN provides a secure way to shop online while connecting to public Wi-Fi networks.
Use trusted payment methods
Prioritize safe and trusted payment methods when making online purchases. Whenever possible, opt for credit cards, as they often offer insurance for your purchases. In the event that you accidentally enter your card information on a malicious website or respond to a suspicious email, promptly contact your credit card company to inform them of the situation. Remember never to send cash through the mail as it poses additional risks.
Log out after shopping
Always remember to log off after completing an online shopping session, particularly if you share a computer with others or have used a public computer or Wi-Fi network, such as those found in internet cafes. Logging off helps protect your personal information from being accessed by unauthorized individuals.
Review credit card statements carefully
It is essential to read your credit card statements when they arrive regularly. Take the time to review them and check for any unauthorized charges carefully. If you come across any unusual or suspicious transactions, report them immediately to your credit card company. Additionally, it is important to ensure that your children do not have access to your online accounts and limit their ability to access your credit card and bank information.
While online shopping offers convenience and a wide range of options, it exposes consumers to potential privacy issues. By being aware of the risks and implementing proper safety measures, such as using secure payment methods and being vigilant with personal information, individuals can mitigate their susceptibility to consumer data privacy breaches. It is important to stay informed, adapt to evolving technology, and prioritize security to enjoy a safe and secure online shopping experience. Remember, safeguarding your personal information is key to protecting your identity and ensuring a worry-free online shopping experience.